Hong Kong, a former British colony and a global financial hub is rocked by the worst civil unrest after its handover to China in 1997. Thousands of "Occupy Central" activists blocked the roads of the city demanding resignation of Hong Kong's leader and the transition to universal suffrage in sit-down protests dubbed as umbrella revolution.
Brian Yeung, an independent contributor to Chinese and English media in HK, AsiaGamingBrief contributing editor, Hong Kong, China, and Timoty Misir, independent researcher in Hong Kong, China, shared their opinions with Radio VR.
What is the atmosphere like on the streets of Hong Kong where you are now? What are the protestors saying?
Brian Yeung: Basically, now the protest area is very peaceful. And there is no doubt that we need to stay calm, in order to show an example for the international community. Based on the conversations I had with the protesters, the goal is very simple – people want a genuine universal suffrage, we don’t want a nomination before the election.
There is some background to actually why it happens three years before the 2017 election. Recently our Government has proposed an electoral reform. There will be a nomination mechanism and that is not a genuine universal suffrage the Hong Kong people look for. So, that’s why nowadays the students take the lead and go to protest.
You say the situation is calm, but this week the leaders of the protesters were saying that they put the demand for the Head of the Hong Kong Government to resign, otherwise we will occupy government buildings. So, it seems that we should not be disillusioned with that.
Brian Yeung: The protesters had said that if the Chief Executive didn’t step down yesterday, they would occupy the buildings. An update is that now the protesters turned down this request, both the government and the protesters agreed to have a conversation. That is number one. And number two is that, we have to clarify. The protesters only have the umbrellas, they are unarmed. So, what can they do to occupy the building, is just to get near the building and that is it. That’s what they mean by occupying. So, it is not as violent, as dramatic, as many international commentators have thought about.
So, basically the protest here is more about the dialog. It is more symbolic. There isn’t any violence happening here. And I think there is kind of a dramatization in the media representation of the protest here.
Is the dialog likely to take place?
Timoty Misir: It was announced that CY Leung did extend an offer to the Hong Kong Federation of Students for a dialog. So, it might happen. But, yes, from my sense, it is still a very fragmented group. There are Occupy Central with Love and Peace, which is another faction and Scholarism as well. The offer was only extended to HKFS. So, even though there is a dialog, it is only going to be with one portion of the occupiers.
If we don’t see any consensus, what comes next? How far the conflict can go?
In my opinion it will probably disperse. It is largely a well-educated middle class that is out there. And they, unlike in Ukraine or Russia, they lack the desperation to risk their lives. So, they are just fine to losing a battle.
Brian, what is your take on that?
Brian Yeung: Yes, I agree absolutely. I think it is wrong to compare what is happening in Hong Kong to what happened in Ukraine. We have the protesters, they are asking for something like promises and guarantees of better consultation. So, basically it is just a demonstration, it is just a movement, but it is not a revolution. We are not overthrowing the power, we are not overing the system, that is number one. And number two is that the people who are there, they are unarmed. They are students, well-educated middle class. So, it would turn out into violent only if there will be some violence from the police’s side. But I'm proud of our police being one of the Asia’s finest and well-disciplined police. So far we only see the tear gas, which fits the international standards as well.
And how strong the pro-Government sentiments are?
Brian Yeung: I think the majority of Hong Kong people do want universal suffrage, it is just the way to achieve that is different. The occupied areas are the Causeway Bay, Admiralty and Mongkok. They are the busiest districts. And because of the demonstrations some small businesses cannot operate. And also, these protesters are the students, and if you are a parent, of course, you worry about the safety. And these students are boycotting the schooling.
But the sentiment is that I think the Hong Kong people do have kind of solidarity around this. Most of us do want universal suffrage. And I think it is a very good exercise for Hong Kong civil society to have a dialog, because we’ve never had a dialog of this scale talking about the universal suffrage, talking about democracy. So, I think it is also a very important process that Hong Kong goes through, to really think through how Hong Kong can achieve democracy which is guaranteed by our constitution.
How long do you think they will stay? What will be the point atwhich they might disperse?
Brian Yeung: I think when the Government agreed to have a genuine dialog about revising the proposal or withdrawing the proposal to have a nomination system in the city elections mechanism in 2017, this is when I think people would go home. I think whether CY Leung steps down or not is, it is not the main focus of the movement.